Jok Church

A circle of caring

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You know, what I do is write for children, and I'm probably America's most widely read children's author, in fact. And I always tell people that I don't want to show up looking like a scientist. You can have me as a farmer, or in leathers, and no one has ever chose farmer. I'm here today to talk to you about circles and epiphanies. And you know, an epiphany is usually something you find that you dropped someplace. You've just got to go around the block to see it as an epiphany.


That's a painting of a circle. A friend of mine did that — Richard Bollingbroke. It's the kind of complicated circle that I'm going to tell you about. My circle began back in the '60s in high school in Stow, Ohio where I was the class queer. I was the guy beaten up bloody every week in the boys' room, until one teacher saved my life. She saved my life by letting me go to the bathroom in the teachers' lounge. She did it in secret. She did it for three years. And I had to get out of town. I had a thumb, I had 85 dollars, and I ended up in San Francisco, California — met a lover — and back in the '80s, found it necessary to begin work on AIDS organizations.


About three or four years ago, I got a phone call in the middle of the night from that teacher, Mrs. Posten, who said, "I need to see you. I'm disappointed that we never got to know each other as adults. Could you please come to Ohio, and please bring that man that I know you have found by now. And I should mention that I have pancreatic cancer, and I'd like you to please be quick about this."


Well, the next day we were in Cleveland. We took a look at her, we laughed, we cried, and we knew that she needed to be in a hospice. We found her one, we got her there, and we took care of her and watched over her family, because it was necessary. It's something we knew how to do. And just as the woman who wanted to know me as an adult got to know me, she turned into a box of ashes and was placed in my hands. And what had happened was the circle had closed, it had become a circle — and that epiphany I talked about presented itself.


The epiphany is that death is a part of life. She saved my life; I and my partner saved hers. And you know, that part of life needs everything that the rest of life does. It needs truth and beauty, and I'm so happy it's been mentioned so much here today. It also needs — it needs dignity, love and pleasure, and it's our job to hand those things out.


Thank you.



Did you ever have a teacher who cared for you when no one else did? Jok Church tells a short, moving story of the teacher who sheltered him as a young gay teen and helped him grow — and how, many years later, he and his partner had the privilege of returning the favor.

About the speaker
Jok Church · Cartoonist

Jok Church created the science-education comic strip "You Can with Beakman and Jax" and the zany TV series "Beakman's World."

Jok Church created the science-education comic strip "You Can with Beakman and Jax" and the zany TV series "Beakman's World."